I’ve been reading Simone De Beuvoir’s The Blood of Others. It’s a grating read. It cuts to the pain of an ethical quandary that I feel should grate at us all – are we responsible for everything? Or should we just take care of ourselves? It goes to the heart of existentialist angst – the French variety.
In it, the main character, Jean, quotes Dostoyevsky:
“Each of us is responsible for everything and to every human being.”
Jean adds: “We’re all responsible. But ‘all’ means each of us. I’ve always felt that, even when I was a kid; my eyes are sufficient for this boulevard to exist…I see everything taking place, as if everything that happens, happens through me.”
And so, in classic existentialist form (always, already) he sums up the philosophical basis of our purpose on this planet. But Helene his clinging girlfriend wants more from him. She responds:
“There are times when I feel as though I were an atom in your life.”
She’s of the utilitarian school of thought, which I’ve always struggled with because it has no meta-purpose. It works only to the 85 years we’re allotted on this planet.
Me, I don’t see the point of my personal happiness. It serves no meta-end. Attending to the collective good, however, does serve a meta-end. I’m not being altruistic. I’m being quite selfish within this framework. Feeling worthwhile and that I’m contributing satisfies me more than happiness. Happiness doesn’t do that much for me. I’ve written about this before.
I can only feel like I count if I operate to the notion that I’m responsible for everything. And I’m responsible for everything while ever I choose to expose myself to everything that life offers, which I do so by simply living.
I believe we’re here for a reason – to further things and make things better, not to have a pleasant party.
This applies to recycling, not wasting food, paying taxes to ensure fair education for all, believing refugees deserve a life as decent as ours… and so on. Otherwise, what’s our meta-point?
What about you?